Joining Apa Sherpa on stage will be the university’s new faculty member, Dr. Ubaraj Katawal, a specialist on 20th and 21st post-colonial literature. He will be introducing the first Nepali author writing in English to be published widely in the West, Samrat Upadhyay, whose award-winning books have received rave reviews, and whose short story collection Arresting God in Kathmandu won him a Whiting Award and selection in Best American Short Stories.
Three natives from Nepal — all with different backgrounds and experiences from one of the world’s poorest per capita countries, a place where getting an education isn’t a given, and the basic adult literacy rate is 48.6% and for women 34.9%. Mr. Sherpa will be discussing his life story and experiences reaching the roof of the world twenty-one times. However, Apa Sherpa has made the decision to quit, solemnly promised his wife and family. After turning fifty-three, he’s content these days to scamper up 12,000 foot mountains like thePfeifferhorn and Salt Lake City’s Lone Peak for kicks. Being fit isn’t the issue. Everyone who knows him knows. Apa Sherpa could summit again, but they’ve made him promise.
Humble and huge-hearted, in addition to being courageous, a devout Buddhist with a million-watt smile, Mr. Sherpa will talk of the entrenched socio-economic difficulties so many of his countrymen face. Many of the photographs he’ll be showing are shots of village life, views of the Himalayas featuring several mountains over 20,000 feet, including many of the world’s most dangerous climbing routes. Apa Sherpa has done many of these baby-sister peaks since his days working as a “kitchen boy,” or carrying building supplies like 180 pound oak doors (wood, firewood, trees are scarce in Nepal’s high-attitude ecosystem) and bags of cement up precariously steep trails, building strength, increasing his genome’s oxygen efficiency and lung capacity even further. Many years ago, when Apa had only four summits under his belt, he and a fellow sherpa were doing an interview in Japan and a local wit suggested, “Hey, you two should run in the Tokyo marathon.” Apa thought about it. “So we said, sure, okay. They bought us good New Balance shoes. But I’m not a runner. I’m a walker. In Nepal we walk everywhere.”